SALEM, Va. – The Saint Anselm College softball team continued to demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity on Thursday, downing No. 8 Southern Arkansas University by a 2-1 margin in a walk-off, nine-inning affair at the NCAA Division II Softball Championship at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex.
Saint Anselm improves to 42-10-1 on the season and has advanced to the winner's bracket of the championship. The Hawks, who are 3-0 in extra-inning games this season, will take on sixth-seeded Saint Leo after the Lions edged third-seeded Chico State, 3-2, in the final game of the day - all four games on the opening day were decided by a single run. Five of Saint Anselm's six wins in the NCAA Tournament this season have come by one or two runs as the Hawks improved to 29-3 in their last 32 games since Mar. 25.
Southern Arkansas, the eighth-ranked team in the country according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), falls to 57-10 on the season and will take on third-seeded Chico State on Friday in an elimination game. The loss snaps a modest five-game winning streak for the winners of the Central Region.
RAW VIDEO: @SaintAnselm walks off with a 2-1 victory in the bottom of the ninth inning vs. No. 8 Southern Arkansas! The Hawks win their first-ever @NCAADII Championship game in dramatic fashion. #HawksSoarHigher pic.twitter.com/8b7e1R2b3D— Saint Anselm Hawks (@STAHawks) May 24, 2018
Without a hit through the game's first five innings, the Hawks dramatically changed their fortunes when sophomore Erin Thompson smacked her first home run of the season to tie the game at one in the bottom of the sixth inning. Up to that point, the Hawks' offense was stymied without a hit and left four runners on base.
The home run by Thompson gave her 59 hits this season, tying Lisa Petell '99 for second place on the Hawks' single-season leaderboard.
Sophomore Shannon Colson began the winning rally for Saint Anselm in the bottom of the ninth inning with a single up the middle. Junior Jordan O'Connor followed with a single up the middle, placing two runners on with one out in the frame. A fielder's choice force-play at third off the bat of Lauren Washburn recorded the inning's second out, leaving runners at first and second.
Sophomore Madison Borrelli put the ball in play with two outs, hitting a bouncer to the left side that eluded the grasp of the slick-fielding Lady Muleriders' shortstop. O'Connor never stopped running, rounding third with the game's winning run, as the ball also got past the hard-charging SAU left fielder, to propel Saint Anselm further into unknown territory – the winner's bracket of the NCAA Championship.
The Hawks put a runner on in the first inning as sophomore Maggie Murphy was hit by a pitch from the Lady Muleriders' Victoria Taylor. She was stranded on base, however, as a baserunning miscue by Saint Anselm ended the threat for Southern Arkansas. The first two runners in the second inning also reached for Saint Anselm but three-straight outs ended the threat.
A four-hit fourth inning for the Lady Muleriders scored the game's first run. An infield hit by Faith Otts would ultimately come back to hurt Hawks' hurler Morgan Perry as a single to left field by Jill Roye followed to put runners on first and second. After a foul out for the first out of the inning, Monica Islava delivered a hard-hit single through the left side to create a 1-0 lead for the designated visiting team. With a run in and the bases loaded with just one out, Perry kept SAU to the one run by retiring the final two batters of the frame.
The Lady Muleriders had two runners on in the eighth inning before a fielder's choice erased the threat. Perry was able to survive despite tough situations posed by the potent Southern Arkansas offense – the team entered play with the second-most home runs per game in NCAA Division II, averaging 1.67 per contest.
The Hawks made Taylor, a First Team NFCA All-American, work throughout the contest despite no-hitting the Hawks for the majority of the game. She hit two batters and ultimately allowed three walks to Saint Anselm and regularly faced deep counts. For instance, Colson had a 12-pitch at-bat that yielded in a walk in the bottom of the second inning.
Perry improves to 24-4 on the year, fanning six batters and allowing six hits in only nine innings. The sophomore posted her fifth-straight victory and is 5-0 with one save and a 0.90 ERA in six appearances in the NCAA Tournament this season. Over 39.0 innings of work in the postseason, Perry has allowed just 22 hits and eight walks with 43 strikeouts.